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review 2019-10-22 08:24
Restoring Christmas by Cynthia Ruchti
Restoring Christmas - Cynthia Ruchti

Alexis Blake has one chance to land her own show on the Home Project Network and nothing-not an uncooperative client, a job site without indoor plumbing, or a challenging videographer-is going to stand in her way. Elsie, at seventy-plus, is far from the ideal client, but she knows exactly what she wants her fieldstone house to look like, and no designer can tell her otherwise. Gabe Langley, the man with the camera, is caught in the middle and it is his wisdom and warmth that just may be the bridge that will bring these two women together. Can they restore more than just a house and bring about special, almost lost forever Christmas memories?






Interior designer Alexis Blake, based in Algoma, Wisconsin, is challenged to do a complete home remodel in just eight weeks, a project that could potentially put her name on the map in the home design industry. One other challenge -- the process is to be televised!

Alexis goes to meet with George Langely, a seasoned videographer she's hired to film the project. The surprise and dismay she's hit with when she discovers George has suffered a back injury that will have him out of service for a minimum of several weeks! George sends a Plan B in his stead: his grown son Gabe, also an experienced cameraman.

That's only the start of the hangups & hiccups of this reno. Alexis goes on to battle weather delays, crew disputes, and a myriad of stress sandwiches centered around a money pit of a farmhouse (the one Alexis is expected to turn around) and its cranky, elderly owner, Elsie Raymond. But let's not let Alexis off lightly. Nope, let's also add in her having to camp at the Langely residence when her hotel in town is hit by a skunk attack and no other rooms appear to be available anywhere else in town for the next eight weeks she needs to complete this challenge.

This little novel has a limited amount of space to present and then solve all these issues, but somehow our MC Alexis pulls through. Not well, mind you, not IMO... but she at least gets the job done on some level.

So how can I love the first Christmas story so much but leave this book with a 2 rating? Believe me, I'm as surprised and disappointed as you are! Not that this story didn't have its merits... there were just a lot of things that didn't work for me this time around. Let me break it down:

* Truth be told, Alexis is one seriously irritating MC most of the time. Nearly everything seems to annoy her on some level. Girl has zero chill. As charming as Gabe is, he deserves a better female counterpart.

* It also strikes me that Alexis is not all that great a designer if she's ONLY interested in foisting her own design plans on her client without listening --- really listening --- to any of their ideas, concerns, likes / dislikes, etc. She deems these kinds of clients as "uncooperative" and only seems concerned with advancing her career, not honestly taking into consideration that someone has to actually LIVE in the place after she leaves. Might want to incorporate at least a few things THEY might like. Just sayin'.

* I had a hard eyeroll when I read that Gabe and Alexis were inspired by real-life flippers Chip and JoAnna Gaines from HGTV's Fixer Upper. I know they have their fanbase, and if you're in that group -- here you go, this book's for you. I personally find them a bit cringe.

I loved Elsie, the prickly, elderly homeowner. She likes what she likes and is unapologetic about it. Her way of being endearing in a rough-around-the-edges way was adorable (if you've known those kinds of people in your life and know how to love them). I loved her reveal of where she goes when she takes off for days on end!

The jokes and dialogue ran somewhat corny. The Christmas holiday IS mentioned throughout this storyline, but the overall cozy vibes of the season were not as noticeable as in The Endless Christmas. That was my main issue with Restoring Christmas -- while I loved Elsie and the Langely men, much of the story was just so SLOW and DRY. For such a short book, I was struggling to just finish it already.

I also think it was a bad move on Ruchti's part to force readers to go online to find out the full ending to this book. Way to isolate and cheat some of your readership.

FTC Disclaimer: Worthy Publishing kindly provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own.

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review 2019-06-01 13:46
Carol for Another Christmas by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough
Carol for Another Christmas - Elizabeth Ann Scarborough

The spirit of Ebeneezer Scrooge returns to the 20th century to teach a lonely woman the meaning of Christmas in this delightful holiday fable from Nebula Award-winning author Elizabeth Ann Scarborough.  A workaholic with no room in her life for home, family, or love, Monica Banks finds her life dramatically transformed by the arrival of a special spirit from Christmas past, Ebeneezer Scrooge, who takes her on a journey that teaches her about the joy of Christmas.





In this more modern (published in 1996), gender-swapped conceptualization of the Charles Dickens classic, our Scrooge this time 'round is Monica Banks, a former tax auditor, now CEO of Databanks, a Seattle-based software company that develops Siri-like technology. Secretly addressed as "Dragonlady" by her employees, Monica's staff sometimes joke that she must have had a past life as a member of the Third Reich. Yeah, THAT bad.


As the holidays approach, Monica gets a visit from the OG Ebenezer one night to give her the heads up on the visitations coming her way. Obviously the skeptic in her disregards the message. But sure enough, the visitors come bearing reminders of painful memories and an even more unpleasant future, should Monica not turn her behavior around. Through these scenes, just as in the original story, we learn what has happened over the course of her life to have turned her into the witchy woman people now see her as. A few of the main deviations from Dickens' original:


1) Monica inheriting Databanks from brother Doug after his untimely death. Doug ran the company much like Google headquarters -- colorful art in offices, fun environments with toys, inflatable furniture, aquariums.... Once Monica takes over, she does away with all that, starting her on the path of becoming the battle-ax boss.



"You wouldn't know it was the same place," Sheryl said with a woeful shake of her head," Would you, Harald?" she asked another fellow, this one thin, dark, and bespectacled and perhaps a bit older than the others.


He shook his head sadly and held up a slice of pie with what appeared to be cheese melted on it. "Nope. Look at this. Cold pizza. On Christmas Eve, no less. Dragonlady closed all the cafeterias after 5 P.M. and charges more than a five-star restaurant to eat there, plus we only get half an hour."


Phillip chimed in, "When Doug was alive, they were always open and FREE, so if you were working on a problem at 2 A.M., you could still get a noshie."


"She brought in time clocks," Melody said with a delicate shudder.


"Sold the art collection too," Sheryl added forlornly. "I could tell which building I was in by that art collection. Now all the interiors look the same. I was lost for three days once trying to get back from the restroom."


"Pay toilets," a red-haired woman interjected.


"I used to be able to tell where I was from Matt-in-development's inflatable shark hanging from his ceiling, Karen-the-coder's aquarium, tester Bob's stuffed gorilla, and the different Doonesbury, Far Side and Peanuts cartoons on people's windows, but they're all gone now, " Curtis said, shaking his head, grieving for what had gone before. "All gone."


2) Dickens' original "Tiny Tim" character is represented here by eight year old redheaded Tina Timmons, who loves reading and making origami animals. But instead of Tim's faulty legs, Tina's health issue is a problematic heart. Tina's grandfather is the janitor at Databanks. Tina's grandmother and father are both deceased. Tina lives with her grandfather, mother and her teenage aunt and uncle in a slum apartment building where they joke, "cats and dogs not allowed, only rats, mice and cockroaches."


3) The spirit of OG Scrooge also seems to be able to interact with Monica's employees, even though they explain away his presence as some freak computer glitch (this is after he first makes his presence known by speaking through a computer and they can't figure out how to make him stop). Eventually they just accept him as some sort of avatar full of wisdom and mysterious powers of prophecy. It was a little confusing to work out at times but it also seems the employees are sometimes able to witness Monica's visitations as a distanced, detached (not in the room with her, I mean) audience?


Scrooge is able to travel through computer games, virtual reality programs, emails, etc to gather information and communicate with others. This process, the way it's laid out in the book, is sometimes a little difficult to visualize, but the concept is fun and later proves a nice vehicle for Scrooge seeing this modern world and being shocked by the rampant materialism of the day. As he puts it when Monica's employees show him a mall for the first time, "A small pile of these gifts could fund the Cratchetts for several years!".


The prologue to this book almost serves as an epilogue to Dickens' original work, Scrooge giving readers a rundown of what happened after the final scene of that classic story, up to the last five years of Scrooge's life. While the sci-fi / fantasy element introduced into Dickens' original concept makes for good reading fun (especially when reading it now and seeing how dated the 90s ideas already seem), there's also some heavier topics addressed here. Along with talks on unhealthy levels of consumerism, author Elizabeth Ann Scarborough also addresses the important discussion of mental health dips during the holidays. Holiday depression, work fatigue, it all gets hashed out between characters. Even a talk on slave labor comes up. I don't know about Scrooge's comment on overworked employees though, "Surely a Christmas so hard won must be all the sweeter..." LOL 


Certainly a unique twist on a holiday favorite! 

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review 2019-02-14 08:43
The Twelve Dates of Christmas by Susan Meier
The Twelve Dates of Christmas (Mills & Boon) - Susan Meier

The perfect business arrangement? 

When entrepreneur Ricky Langley offers Eloise Vaughn the help she needs, in exchange for her attending twelve Christmas parties as his date, she can't refuse. Yes, Ricky's handsome, and devastatingly charming, but this is about business. If only her racing heart would get the message! 

Ricky has his own reasons for hating Christmas. But with each date that passes Eloise opens his eyes to the spirit of the season…and opens his heart to a totally different future….






Super successful entrepreneur Ricky Langley bumps into Eloise Vaughn at a business function, gets to talking with her for awhile before offering her a ride home after she's had an upsetting day. Talking with her and hearing of her struggle to find decent job prospects, he sees something of his earlier less successful self and offers to help. He offers to use his business contacts to get her interviews with some of the best companies in the city. In return, Ricky asks Eloise to pose as his date for twelve parties / functions he's expected to be at over the course of the holiday season. 


Not long ago, Ricky suffered a tragedy. Since then, he's had to navigate the pity of friends and business associates, many who now want to see him get back in the game but hesitate to bring up the subject. He's hoping the presence of Eloise will shift the focus off of him. Eloise is hesitant to agree to the plan, not wanting to be perceived as a charity case... but being desperate for employment has a way of making the ego step aside. 


Once the "dates" start, each time proves an opportunity for Eloise to show off her secret fashion designer skills. She crafts amazing creations out of secondhand finds that secretly leave Ricky breathless (you'll notice the girl loves herself an open back look). Eloise has her hands full making their coupledom seem realistic during the holidays. Ricky has his reasons for hating the Christmas season. But the more time they spend together -- no surprise, this being a romance --- she has a way of turning his heart. 




Ricky is able to get Eloise to divulge her secrets but remains resolutely tight lipped about his own. The more he learns about who Eloise is, the real her, the more he comes to respect her. His resolve to not actually get involved with her emotionally begins to break down. Though Eloise has plenty of fun during her time with Ricky, tensions rise between them as it dawns on her that several dates have passed and Ricky has done virtually nothing to help her job prospects as he promised. Naturally, there's a calling-out scene where she brings this to his attention. He's defensive about it at first, but eventually acknowledges he's dropped the ball. When he does start to put focus on getting interviews lined up for her as promised, he hits a wall himself. He begins to understand her struggle. Ricky also sees how cold and short-tempered he's been with his own staff, dismissing his own unnecessarily harsh behavior as "professionalism".


It's a clean romance for the most part -- 200 pages to get to a first kiss, no sex whatsoever. It took a little time for the plot to really get going, most of the fun happening after the tequila shots scene (always the way, isn't it LOL). There's a surprising amount of honest self-reflection among these characters, set in realistic situations of struggle, which I appreciated. Definitely a fun one for the holidays without being overdosed on holiday sap. 

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review 2018-07-20 05:09
Falling Like Snowflakes (Summer Harbor #1) by Denise Hunter
Falling Like Snowflakes (A Summer Harbor Novel) - Denise Hunter

Speeding north through rural Maine, Eden Martelli wonders how her life came to this—on the run with her mute five-year-old son dozing fitfully in the passenger seat. When a breakdown leaves them stranded in Summer Harbor, Eden has no choice but to stay put through Christmas . . . even though they have no place to lay their heads. Beau Callahan is a habitual problem solver—for other people anyway. He left the sheriff’s department to take over his family’s Christmas tree farm, but he’s still haunted by the loss of his parents and struggling to handle his first Christmas alone. When Eden shows up looking for work just as Beau’s feisty aunt gets out of the hospital, Beau thinks he’s finally caught a break. Eden is competent and dedicated—if a little guarded—and a knockout to boot. But, as he soon finds out, she also comes with a boatload of secrets. Eden has been through too much to trust her heart to another man, but Beau is impossible to resist, and the feeling seems to be mutual. As Christmas Eve approaches, Eden’s past catches up to her. Beau will go to the ends of the earth to keep her safe. But who’s going to protect his heart from a woman who can’t seem to trust again?





Eden Martinelli is on the run with her five year old mute son. Though her one persistent thought is "keep moving!", once her car breaks down she is forced to at least temporarily settle in the small town of Summer Harbor, Maine. With holiday season on the horizon, Eden gets a job at a local tree farm, the farm owned and operated by former cop Beau Callahan. When Beau's aunt, Trudy, suffers an accident that leads to a fractured leg, Eden is hired on as her home aide while Trudy recovers and works through physical therapy. 


As Eden settles into the Callahan home on the farm, her very presence seems to gradually knock loose some repressed feelings in multiple family members, feelings wrapped around long-running unaddressed hurts.Beau notices this influence, and though his heart begins to warm toward Eden, he's still troubled by the mysterious air she keeps around her. Why is she so evasive with any personal questions? What is she hiding? Beau low-key worries that she might be running from the law and he just hired a criminal to look after a beloved family member, but his gut tells him she's not dangerous, just scared. So who put that kind of fear into her?


This is a nice holiday read. It's not brimming with over the top holiday cheer, but instead offers a cozy balance of wit, small town charm, a slow-burn romantic interest, and a dash of mystery. Perfect for those who like their suspense on the more mild side of things...sort of in the thriller-lite vein of a Hallmark Mystery Movie. The bad guy scenes got a little cliche at times for my liking, but the Callahan brothers are so likeable in this series that minor eyeroll moments can easily be forgiven. 


For those in book clubs, discussion questions for this story are offered at the back of the book. 


I've been reading these out of order, which -- I thought I would mention -- works fine, as each book focuses on a different Callahan brother (of three). But looking back, there are some minor chronological aspects -- mainly with the storyline of Riley's military service -- that will flow better if you read in order. 




My review for The Goodbye Bride (Summer Harbor #2)

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review 2018-06-11 15:49
All The Lonely People by Jess Riley
All the Lonely People - Jess Riley

WANTED: a whole new family to share holidays with. Please have a good heart and be a thoughtful, polite person. No sociopaths, no pedophiles, no fans of the Kardashians. We're not weirdos, I promise. I love old Steve Martin movies, new Steve Martin banjo tunes, Indian food, and reruns of Bob Ross painting happy little trees. So if you're looking for something other than the typical family dysfunction this Christmas, drop us a line.

After losing her beloved mother to cancer, 37-year-old Jaime Collins must confront the ugly fact that she and her siblings don't actually like one another. At all. Fueled by grief and an epic argument at Thanksgiving dinner, Jaime decides to divorce her siblings and posts an ad on Craigslist for a new family with whom to share Christmas dinner.

What happens next is a heartwarming, funny, and surprising journey to forgiveness and healing. Is blood really thicker than water? What makes a family? And how far do we have to go to find our way back home again?






POTENTIAL TRIGGER WARNING: This novel touches upon the topics of cutting, depression, abusive relationships and attempted suicide.


Thirty-seven year old Jaime Collins recently lost her mom to cancer. Now the holiday season is just around the corner and Jaime could not be less enthused. She has no interest in holiday shopping or putting on smiles around her insensitive brother and meddlesome sister-in-law. Things come to a head when she ends up having a blow-out fight with her siblings over Thanksgiving dinner. Riding the high emotions of that night, Jaime goes home and decides to place a Craigslist ad for a new family for Christmas. She requests responses from anyone else feeling alone or fed up with their own family situation. She crafts the ad while intoxicated, posts, and within 12 hours has 26 responses to sift through. The winners for her Christmas party include transgender Chris, daschund-loving Paul, welding artist Evelyn (who also happens to have a dander allergy) and Alyssa, a science major struggling through her own grieving process after recently losing her boyfriend in a car wreck.



All the Lonely People

re-release cover for this book



While this story certainly has its laughs, it may not be for the more sensitive readers out there because plenty of hard-hitting topics are addressed over the course of Jaime's story. There's also a fair bit of crude language and dark / off-color / risque humor (ie. jokes about strap-ons) implemented in the process. In addition to witnessing our main character work through the grieving process over the death of her mother, we (the readers) are also informed of Jaime's father-in-law battling Alzheimer's, Jaime herself struggling with fertility issues (her journey through IVF treatments), as well as the plot also bringing up the topics of cutting, depression, attempted suicide, abusive relationships and struggles with gender identity.


That night, I sleep on the couch for the first time in years... Erik finds me downstairs in the morning, a hurt look on his face. "We never sleep apart," he says, like a wounded little boy. I tell him he was snoring, that I couldn't sleep, that I didn't want to wake him with my tossing and turning. The real reason is this: I'd simply wanted to be alone with my sadness, giving it space to spread out, because there wasn't enough room for all three of us in the queen-sized bed...Part of it was that I felt like a broken shard from a smashed vase, and I only wanted to spend time with the other broken pieces because maybe we could glue ourselves together and hold water again. Erik wasn't a broken shard. He was a whole vase, forged from some space-age unbreakable polymer. He bounced when he fell. I shattered into sharp little pieces waiting to slice into the next person unfortunate enough to walk into the room barefoot. Or as Frankie would say, I'd cut a bitch. And then feel really bad about it.


Even though I can appreciate that important topics were brought to light in the unfolding of this story, and the story itself is solidly entertaining, it did go on a little long for me. By Chapter 17 I was feeling like the story could've been sufficiently wrapped up, all questions answered... a feeling that continued on right through Chapter 26... and even after that you get three more chapters! I also didn't always love Jaime. In fact, she struck me as a being a little petty with her dad near the end of the book.


In the acknowledgements, Jess Riley gives a shout-out to author friend Jen Lancaster.

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